Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What is the far right? Why nationalist parties are on the rise in Europe

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Radical-right political parties have made significant gains in the European Parliament elections.

So much so that French President Emmanuel Macron has called for snap elections in his country.

But a surge in support for the far right isn’t new for the continent.

Nationalist and populist parties are becoming increasingly dominant in national settings across many EU capitals.

This is where the groups have been on the rise. And what the shifts to the right could mean for the EU and beyond.

What is the far right?

Traditionally, far-right parties have been openly “authoritarian, anti-Semitic and racist”, Ben Wellings, professor in politics and international relations at Monash University, said.

But these days, many have been through a process of modernisation that has made them more respectable than they once were.

“Some of these parties have far-right antecedents, but we now call them radical-right parties,” Professor Wellings said.

“The old far right would have been white supremacists … but the radical right is slightly more complicated.”

Far-right party leader Marine Le Pen dealt a heavy blow to French President Emmanuel Macron in the EU parliamentary election.(Reuters: Johanna Geron)

For instance, in France, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party — formally known as the National Front — used to be a very authoritarian political party that was openly anti-Semitic, Professor Wellings said.

“But it’s not quite either of those things anymore … it says it adheres to republican, secular values, which are majoritarian rather than racist,” he said.

“But of course, it’s kind of aimed at Muslims, so it’s how you interpret that.”

a closeup of Meloni's face as she stands in front of EU flags

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni positions her party as mainstream conservative.(Reuters: Yves Herman)

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia — FdI) was related to a post-war fascist party, but she downplays its roots.

She describes the Fdl as mainstream conservative, particularly pushing against anti-Semitism so the party can align with Israel, Professor Wellings said.

“Those things are less immediately apparent — but I’m not saying they’re not there,” he said.

“But in terms of the way that the party leaders present themselves and have, in some ways, successfully turned their parties around to get that new generation of support.”

Political observers attribute the shift to the right to the rise in the cost of living, concerns about migration and the cost of the green transition, and the war in Ukraine — worries that many of the parties have seized on.

“Economic downturns and economic difficulties are always good news for right-wing parties or [parties that] radically sit outside the mainstream,” Professor Wellings said.

Where is the far right dominating?

The nationalist Sweden Democrats support a minority government and are the second-largest force in parliament.

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